The very idea of a civilization without books, like that of Fahrenheit 451 where the main character is a book burning fireman, fills me with sadness and terror. I deeply love books, and cannot imagine my life without them. Yet, ironically it was the first book I read in February, Grey by E.L. James that really made me contemplate the merits of book burning, not as a form of censorship, but as a form of catharsis and redemption for the horrible and painful experience it was to have to read it. It was so bad it kind of turned me off reading so much it was a whole two weeks before I picked up my next book. Why didn’t I abandon the book and pick up something else? When I started this year I promised myself that I would finish every single book I start this year, an attempt to break the cycle of dozens and dozens of half-read books all over my apartment. Books that I loved but put down for whatever small reason and never picked up again. I wanted this year to be different. I knew that if I didn’t finish this horrid book in as little time as humanly possible considering I could only handle so much torture in one sitting, if I so much as peeked at another book I would never return to Grey and it would fall into the wasteland of unfinished titles. Thankfully, the rest of my reading list for the month, Still Alice, Fahrenheit 451, and Between the World and Me were all wonderful, moving books that gave me a lot to think about and really reaffirmed why I love reading as much as I do.
by E.L. James
It may seem like an exaggeration for me to only give this book one star and to declare as vehemently as I had that I absolutely hated it. Yet, to say anything less than that would feel dishonest. The retelling of the chapter of the famed Fifty Shades of Grey series, from the point of view of the deeply damaged, sadistic billionaire Cristian Grey instead of through the eyes of the naive and lovable Anastasia Steele. I must admit that I couldn’t get through the book from Anastasia’s perspective either, when I tried years ago after finding my sister’s copy in the house, I gave up half way because I hated and at the time. It isn’t so much the story that I hate, it’s the storytelling. The characters are superficial, in spite of the fact that they are often revealing their thoughts. The plot is slow and doesn’t really go anywhere. The more racy parts are somewhat interesting the first or second time around, but they start to feel repetitive because in spite of being some sort of genius prodigy who made a fortune before 30, Cristian Grey lacks the eloquence or perhaps the creativity to express any depth and variety in his recollection of his sexual and consensual but abusive encounters with his partner. I can maybe see why some people like this book but it wasn’t for me. I will sit on it for a bit before I write a full review, because I hated it so much I am afraid perhaps I am judging it with undue passion.
by Lisa Genova
This moving portrait of early onset Alzheimer’s helped me understand the disease and the way it ravages the mind. My only exposure to Alzheimer to this point has been when my great grandmother got it in her early 90’s. I didn’t know her that well, and other than what was relayed to me, I didn’t witness the ways in which the disease changed her. Still Alice focuses on a much younger woman in her early fifties, with a very successful career as a Harvard University Professor. The ways in which Alice’s life changes as the disease progresses unfolds in vivid detail, as we see the story from her perspective and are are privy to her sometimes confused thoughts. The book truly felt like being in the mind of an Alzheimer’s patient, and was very well written. Simultaneously entertaining and informative, I definitely waked away much aware of this disease that some estimates claim will affect around half of us before we die.
by Ray Bradbury
This book is a classic, and required reading in a lot of schools, but for whatever reasons, perhaps my second rate public school education, I had never read it. Once I did I couldn’t believe this book had not been a part of my life sooner. Although science fiction is not often a genre I even venture into or enjoy, the political and social message of this book is what attracted me to Fahrenheit 451. Published in 1953 but taking place in a future, where nuclear wars are the norm, and people are surrounded by television screens who speak them, and who they truly consider to be their family, the world of the book sounded very eerily like our current reality. In this world books are banned, and firefighters burn the homes of those who are found to possess books, using hoses that spray kerosene instead of water. I really liked the book and it reminded me of 1984 by George Orwell. Considering they were published only a couple years apart, they both really speak to the level of awareness and foresight of some of those who had witnessed WWII and were watching the world change drastically in the aftermath. How they were able to predict so much of what has become commonplace in our lives, the loss of privacy, the loss individuality, loss of free thought and awareness, a preoccupation with an artificial reality we have turned into our social circle at the expense of real human interaction. Definitely worth reading, I know this won’t be the last time I read this book, as it is one of those that you will find yourself remembering throughout your life.
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
As a person of color, it is impossible for me to ignore the issues of race that we grapple with in the U.S. for I have had to live with the discrimination, experience it first hand, and worry every single day about the prospect of bringing a child of color into a world that seems largely hostile to their existence. So reading Between the World and Me, a book written by an African American writer as a sort of long letter to his young son, put me right in the thick of that debate and echoed so many of my concerns over being a parent to a child of color, while revealing some of the ways in which Coates has dealt with the fear and the challenges. I loved reading about his childhood in an inner city, his journey to Howard University which he called “Black Mecca”, and his struggles to become a writer. Coates speaks about the dark and troubling history of this country with a passion that comes from living with the consequences of that past. He illustrates with clarity and poetry the ways in which living as a person of color, an African American male in particular, is a journey wrought with fear, danger and rejection. When placed in the context of a time in our history where police brutality and the deaths of several young African American men on the hands of the police, the book is even more powerful and I can understand why it was chosen as the National Book Award Winner. Yet, the book is no way heavy or historical, although it does shed light on facts. It is written from a very personal perspective, with Coates’s distinct voice permeating every page and his personal experiences providing the context for his ideas. Experiences such as the first realization that as a young black male, he could fall victim to violence at any minute, be that in the hands of criminals in the street, or in the hands of police officers like one of his childhood friends who was gunned down near a gated community in a suburb outside of DC, having committed no crime. This experience marked Coates and led to a lot of his fantastic work as a reporter for the Atlantic, where he has published articles that deal with race in America, and a variety of other issues that affect communities outside of the mainstream white middle class target demographic. One of the best books I have read so far this year, and that is saying a lot because it sits in the company of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, as a work that both moved me deeply and opened my mind. Definitely worth reading, this very short book went such a long way in reminding me that reading is not just a means of entertainment for me, it is how I grow, how I come to terms with myself and my own life, reading is profoundly intertwined with how I see the world, and even having to read a million copies of books as bad as Grey was, will never be enough to make walk away from the pleasure of finding just one book like Between the World and Me.
For the month of March I have added some tittles that while a bit on the heavy side, will surely be more rewarding Grey, including my goal of finally crossing Into the Wild by John Krakauer off my list. I also have a couple of dates with a work on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg tittled The Notorious RBG, Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch, and Marcus Suzak’s I Am The Messenger.
What is on your list for this month? What did you read last month? Are any of these tittles on your list or have you finished any of them? I would love to hear your thoughts on them.